With the 2010-11 regular season tipping off on Tuesday, Oct. 26, we are entering the midst of a very important time for many NBA fans—fantasy basketball draft season.
And following this year's roller-coaster offseason, characterized by an enormous amount of transactions, many of the moves will have significant fantasy implications.
While some of these changes in fantasy value have been obvious, such as the drops encountered by the Miami Heat's Big Three, many others have seemingly slipped through the cracks.
The following are 10 such players—sleepers who, if drafted responsibly, will help you get value out of all of the picks in your draft, essential to any successful fantasy team.
(For more fantasy draft advice, check out the 10 Busts to Avoid in Your Draft.)
During the past two seasons, former New York Knicks point guard Chris Duhon, a career backup, was considered to be a useful fantasy player.
Now imagine what head coach Mike D'Antoni will do with a legitimate starting point.
Sure, it's not like he's going to be putting up Steve Nash numbers, or even anything close to that. But still expect the speedy UNC product to experience a statistical increase across the board.
Playing in Charlotte, he was held back by splitting time with DJ Augustin, as well as sharing control of the offense with Stephen Jackson.
Now fully established as a starter in a prolific offense, he should have no problem putting up a about 15 points, 7.5 assists, and 1.5 steals and threes per game. Furthermore, his shooting percentages are decent, and turnovers shouldn't look to be too much of a problem.
The only real concern with Felton is that, in moving to NY, it seems that he is becoming a popular pick and is slowly rising out of sleeper status.
Nevertheless, ESPN and Yahoo! have him ranked 51 and 57, respectively, and if you are able to grab him close to those spots, he should be a great-value pick.
Heading into the last season, Blake Griffin was everyone's favorite candidate for Rookie of the Year.
However, after suffering a nasty knee injury, he was forced to miss the entire 2009-10 campaign.
He has apparently rehabbed effectively, as he has been tearing it up so far this preseason, averaging a double-double so far and pulling off some nasty plays.
Furthermore, he has been shooting a high percentage from the field while also sprinkling in some steals and blocks.
He has been struggling from the line, though, as he has throughout his basketball career. But as a young and talented player, with work, he should be able to bump up his free-throw percentage to some point above 60.
Yet, like Felton, the word is out on Griffin, so people have had a tendency to reach for him on draft day.
Nevertheless, ESPN has him ranked at 68, whereas Yahoo ranks him at a laughable 99.
He is definitely worth taking well above either of those spots. But be careful, for an unproven player coming off a serious injury is always a risk.
After leaving the New York Knicks for the Denver Nuggets this summer, Al Harrington has largely been written off going into the 2010-11 fantasy season.
Furthermore, the fact that he has been nagged by plantar fasciitis has scared many people away.
However, Harrington's resulting drop in value has now made him an attractive option on draft day.
With Chris Anderson hurt and Kenyon Martin missing a significant portion of the season because he wants to fully heal a knee injury, Al is likely to take on a large role in Denver's efficient offense—with the possibility of even becoming the No. 3 option ahead of JR Smith.
Additionally, by playing alongside Chancey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, Harrington should see his shooting percentage drastically increase from when he was a primary option in NY.
Moreover, he should get some good looks from three, while also doing a serviceable job bringing in rebounds, steals, and the occasional block.
He is ranked 97 by ESPN and 101 by Yahoo. But as long as he is healthy, he is a high-value selection at or before either of those spots.
And that's not to mention how his scoring numbers will have the potential to increase drastically should Melo be traded at some point during the season.
In 2009-10, Terrence Williams put together a rather solid rookie season, averaging about 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists, .5 steals, and .5 threes per game (in only 22 minutes).
Furthermore, after the New Jersey Nets traded Chris Douglas-Roberts, Williams began to see an increased role on the team, putting up four double-doubles and a triple-double.
However, he managed to fly largely under the radar, languishing away on a terrible New Jersey Nets team.
Yet, this season, Williams looks to have earned a starting spot, allowing him to continue to improve and put up big numbers.
Moreover, the Nets as a whole have improved. So their young and talented squad should produce better than in the recent past, providing Williams with a better situation in which to thrive.
ESPN has him at the 100 spot and Yahoo ranked him at 132, but with his intriguing potential to do it all, Williams, as a late pick, could be a serious sleeper in this year's fantasy drafts.
Luis Scola had a fantastic 2009-10 campaign, providing 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, .8 steals, and percentages of .514 (FG) and .779 (FT).
However, with Yao Ming returning from injury in 2010-11, basketball analysts have generally expected a drop in production for the Argentine star.
Yet, with Ming projected to play limited minutes, not to mention his injury liability, Scola could still assume the role as the Houston Rockets' primary big man.
And even if he doesn't, he will still produce from the power forward slot and as a backup center, for, as ESPN points out, he was still very productive while playing alongside Ming in the past.
Consequently, they have him ranked at an entirely reasonable 64, while Yahoo has him way up at 97.
Nevertheless, as his showing in the 2010 FIBA World Championships demonstrated, Scola can definitely play with the best.
If he is available past the middle of your draft, don't hesitate to take this efficient player.
When thinking of a word to describe Roy Hibbert's numbers in 2010-11 (11.7 PTS, 5.7 RBS, 2 AST, 1.8 BLK, .4 STL, 1.8 TO, 49.5 FG percentage, 75.5 FT percentage), the first that comes to mind is serviceable.
However, he only played 25 minutes per game, largely due to foul trouble.
Yet, when one acknowledges the strides which he has already made with regard to limiting his fouls (down to five fouls per 36 minutes from 7.7 fouls per 36), another such improvement is not out of the question.
And increased minutes would do wonders for Hibbert's value.
He already produces starter-quality blocks and a high FT percentage for a center. But more time would certainly cause there to be a spike in his points, rebounds, and assists—effectively making Hibbert a fantasy force.
Furthermore, he should be featured more after the Indiana Pacers traded Troy Murphy and acquired a point guard, Darren Collison, who can efficiently get Hibbert the ball.
He is ranked 87 and 91 by ESPN and Yahoo, but he is well-worth a selection above those spots, as he could certainly breakout this season.
After the much-hyped departure of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been left with a number of questions.
However, their future at the power forward position is a certainty.
With James gone, it is likely that a good deal of his scoring and rebounding will be made up by power forward JJ Hickson.
During his sophomore NBA season, Hickson made a significant improvement, putting up numbers at an efficient rate during his 20 minutes per game.
But now his playing time should shoot up, resulting in a drastic spike in his numbers, as he has seen thus far in the preseason.
And with the ability to score with a high shooting percentage, grab boards, block shots, and get steals, Hickson seems to be drastically undervalued at his ESPN and Yahoo rankings of 106 and 134.
So if you missed out on a star big man early in your draft, don't worry. Just take Hickson.
Like Hickson, Nicolas Batum made a big jump in production during his injury-shortened sophomore NBA season.
However, he battled inconsistency the whole time, and the Portland Trail Blazers went out and acquired Wesley Matthews (another wing) this offseason, effectively causing his fantasy value to slide.
Nevertheless, Portland head coach Nate McMillan has entrenched Batum as the starter, so the Matthews signing will likely only serve to fill the voids left by the departure of Martell Webster and last season's trade of Travis Outlaw.
Consequently, Batum will have a chance to show that his flashes of brilliance from 2009-10 were no fluke.
Furthermore, now that he will be playing a significant role for the Blazers, the well-rounded Frenchman will be able to put up stats in every fantasy category, as he is capable of achieving high scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and percentages.
Moreover, his intriguing combination of youth, athleticism, and talent have him primed to possibly become a star in the near future.
Therefore, Batum's ability to fill up the stat sheet should, coupled with his potential, certainly warrant his being drafted at a higher spot than either ESPN (112) or Yahoo (93) have him ranked.
Following the January suspension of Gilbert Arenas and February trade of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, it seemed that the rest of the Washington Wizards' 2009-10 season might as well have been a waste.
Nonetheless, not all was lost since, no longer feeling the pressure to win, the team was able to play and develop its young talent.
The two standouts were undoubtedly Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, a couple of young, athletic bigs who saw their numbers jump while they were given the reins.
Blatche, however, became the big name of the two, since his scoring ability was much greater than that of McGee. Consequently, his name has jumped up draft boards of late.
McGee, on the other hand, has not gotten as much positive attention, likely due to his raw, almost purely athletic game.
Yet the return of Arenas, coupled with Washington's acquisition of a star-in-the-making point guard, John Wall, should help McGee to thrive.
These two guards will be focal points of the offense, and with their passing ability and opposing defenses focusing primarily on them, McGee will get tons of open looks, great setups, and alley oops.
Furthermore, McGee's game was able to further develop this summer when he spent a great deal of time training with Team USA prior to the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
Now, as the Wizards' starting center, he should see a jump in rebounds, points, steals, and even his already impressive blocks.
Therefore, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect an average stat line of around 10 points on over 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and a steal per game.
And if he is able to even come close to matching these numbers, he warrants drafting well above his 109 and 100 rankings on ESPN and Yahoo.
It's not often that a full-time starting point guard is available during the last couple rounds of a draft, but D.J. Augustin is one of those exceptions.
Ranked by ESPN as 172 and Yahoo as 131, Augustin is an exemplary case of the slipped-through-the-cracks ideology.
Initially impressing as a rookie, there were worries about his being in the Larry Brown's doghouse after he lost minutes to Raymond Felton.
But with Felton now in New York, his only real competition for playing time is the injury-prone Shaun Livingston, who, you guessed it, got injured.
Without a current timetable for his return, Augustin, who was already the favorite to start, has shored up the point gig.
Fresh off of 16-point, eight-assist and 19-point, two-assist performances, Augustin has been more than solid this preseason, also shooting 55 percent from the field and 63 percent from three.
Furthermore, his previously low levels of basketball confidence are now reported to be sky high, a fact which will likely allow him to be able to reach a new level of play.
Therefore, significant improvements upon his rookie averages (about 12 points, 3.5 assists, two rebounds, 1.5 threes, .5 steals, 1.7 turnovers, and shooting percentages of 43 from the field and 89 from the line in 26.5 minutes a game) are not out of the question.
So, consequently, for the 2010-11 fantasy basketball season, D.J. Augustin definitely warrants a late-round sleeper selection.
Robin Lopez, F/C, Phoenix Suns (ESPN 120, Yahoo 103)
With Amar'e Stoudemire's departure, Lopez looks to see a significant increase in playing time this season. Therefore, he will likely see a big jump in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals this season.
Leandro Barbosa, G, Toronto Raptors (ESPN 88, Yahoo 110)
With both Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu now gone, the Raptors will be drastically different in 2010-11. Barbosa looks to be the biggest beneficiary in this situation, as he will have an opportunity to pick up a good deal of the scoring and ball-handling which was lost. Consequently, he will also experience a jump in assists, threes, and steals.
The only drawback is the crowded backcourt, with Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, and DeMar DeRozan all looking to earn substantial minutes.
DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, Sacramento Kings (ESPN 86, Yahoo 125)
As a rookie who was thought to allegedly have character and conditioning issues, Cousins has been doing all of the right things this preseason, working hard and becoming a double-double machine.
Furthermore, he seems to have established himself a probable spot as a starter, but this may also be a problem, as Cousins has been getting lots of hype as of late.
Therefore, people have begun to reach for him in drafts, so be wary, and don't grab this unproven rookie too early since he is rapidly heading out of sleeper territory.